Trial separation

Red Dwarf's Grant and Naylor are said to have split up. But a new series is in the pipeline. Maxton Walker meets a tense Doug Naylor

smegging wonderful. First, my washing machine packs up. Ditto with my tape recorder minutes before the interview is due to start. There I am, sitting in a central London production company wearing my most smeggy clothes, panicking over a sick Dictaphone. And at that moment, who should walk in but the very object of my teenage adulation, Clare Grogan. A moment like this and I look like something the cat dragged in.

Things can only improve. Doug Naylor is unlikely to mind my dishevelled appearance. He has, after all, made a living by writing about curry stains and cruddy boxer shorts.

Naylor, along with Rob Grant, is revered for Red Dwarf (although we should perhaps consider this as merely atonement for earlier crimes. We are, you may recall, dealing with the men who wrote Spitting Image's "The Chicken Song"). And here he is waiting to talk about the imminent production of his solo Red Dwarf novel, Last Human. But first, let's recap.

August 1984. Two young Spitting Image writers gave birth to an idea for a sitcom. It is set aboard a mining vessel stranded in deep space. Aboard are the last human, a creature descended from a cat and a hologram. It is clearly a non-starter but they pitch it to the BBC's light entertainment department, anyway. No dice. They try BBC North West, which is in bullish mood following the success of The Young Ones and Filthy Rich and Catflap. Red Dwarf has the requisite number of knob gags and the first series goes ahead. As predicted, it is not particularly funny.

Autumn 1993: Red Dwarf VI airs. It is considered one of the best sitcoms the BBC has produced in years. At this point Rob Grant expresses a desire to produce a solo Red Dwarf novel, and the two writers move to separate projects.

Two years later, and rumours of a Lennon / McCartney style split between the two have been circulating. Naylor tenses when I ask him about his relationship with Grant but confesses that their partnership on Red Dwarf may be over: "Rob doesn't want to write any more television episodes. At least that's my understanding." However a new series starring Craig Charles is scheduled for next year, and Naylor will go ahead with or without Grant. "If Rob still didn't become involved, then some of the scripts for the next episode would have to be commissioned from other writers."

There is the question of whether Red Dwarf can continue without half of its creative force. From the evidence of Last Human, however, Naylor is easily able to carry the flame. How did he find it working alone on Red Dwarf material?

"It was weird, certainly at first. Before, it has always been the two of us. Rob would work the computer and I would pace around and make the coffee. The first time I had to work alone it was terrible. But there are advantages too. You can write whenever you like, even in the middle of the night if you have an idea, although it's always good to have somebody to bounce ideas off."

Dwarfies who have been weaned solely on the television series may find the book something of a departure. There are far fewer straight laughs, although some of the comic riffs are sublime (such as when our heroes discover a planet on which the currency is human sperm). But, says Naylor, this different tack is deliberate. "I wanted to write something darker, and I knew that I'd have to give up some of the comedy. With scripts, you have to write three laughs a page. In a novel, you don't need that kind of regime."

In one of those spooky cases of sci-fi-cum-satire imitating life, the novel opens with Lister (played in the series by Craig Charles) on trial for something he did not do. "It was a very very freaky coincidence," admits Naylor. "That part of the novel was written before any of the charges were brought. It was a terrible time for all of us. For him to be plucked out of a middle-class existence and stuck in Wandsworth prison was absolutely unbelievable."

Whatever the future holds for the crew of Red Dwarf, we can at least be assured that it will be more bizarre than we could possibly imagine.

`Last Human' is released on 27 April, £15. Doug Naylor will be signing copies at W H Smith, Holborn, 3 May; Forbidden Planet, W1, Books Etc, Charing Cross Rd, 13 May

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